Saturday, May 17, 2008

Field Trip, the conclusion

Before you read this, start with parts one, two, and three.

My stomach fell down to around my shins when it seemed that we had managed to miss the whole rest of our class and were now stuck in San Francisco. I knew we shouldn't have stopped at the deli.

Before we started to really panic, I saw someone familiar--one of the parents--and went over to him.

"Oh, are you guys late, too?" I asked. If nothing else, we could hitch a ride with them or something. He looked puzzled.

"No, we're the first ones here. We've still got an hour or so before everyone else gets here."

I went back to my group and broken the news to them. There was much swearing and much relief. In fact, no we could go grab something substantial to eat without worrying about anything.

Being in San Francisco gives you a wide array of dining options, so I thought long and hard about where I was going to get my official field trip lunch.

"Hi, I'd like a cheeseburger Happy Meal with a Coke." While the food was good, the toy in my Happy Meal was a disappointment--a tie-in with An American Tail. Lame.

After we all ate, we hung out in front of the Opera House, waiting for every one else to get there. We were tempted to look at our, um, reading material, but decided against it, since we didn't know when our teacher would be arriving.

So we spent our time watching all the different people walking by, including one courageous cat who was decked out in candy-cane-striped cowboy boots. It's always nice to see people dress up for the holidays.

Eventually, everyone was there, and it was time for us to file in to see The Nutcracker, or as we all called it, The Ballbuster. I thought The Gonad Grinder was catchier myself, but I was outvoted.

We had pretty good seats. I mean, we weren't up in the front, but we could make out the dancers' features well enough. The show was fairly uneventful until one of the ballerinas went for a pirouette and fell flat on her ass.

Even in the dimmed lights, you could tell where our class was sitting, because where everyone else was making whispering sounds of concern for her welfare, we were chortling hysterically despite admonishment from others.

After the giggles quieted down, Mike, who was sitting next to me, leaned over and said "I'll be right back."

Now I am not the swiftest person by any stretch of the imagination, but even I realized that he wanted the chance to check out the paper by himself. Jim was on my other side and asked where Mike was going. He concurred with my theory about the reason for Mike's departure.

A while later he came back, his jacket unzipped. As if that weren't enough of a sign that something was up, he looked like he'd pushed a wheelchair-bound nun down a starwell full of three-legged kittens and baby seals. I'm talking GUILTY.

"Dude, where did you go?" I whispered to him once he sat down. He didn't say anything for a second.

"I, uh, had to go to the bathroom, so I figured while I was there, I'd look at the, you know...," he whispered back finally.

"I figured as much. So?"

"Well, I looked through it, and all it had was a bunch of phones numbers and stuff like that."


"So I," he paused, "I flushed it down the toilet."

"YOU WHAT?" I said, not bothering to whisper. That got the attention of the rest of my row. I whispered to Jim, who whispered to Dwight. Ryan had sat with other kids in his grade. We all leaned forward and glared sidelong at him. He smiled sheepishly with a "what else could I do?" look.

Well, I was pissed. Not so much because I didn't even get to look at the damn thing (though, admittedly, I was a bit curious), but he was the only one who didn't contribute any money.

On the BART trip home, he didn't want to talk much about it, which meant that we had to come up with explanations on our own. We came up with a few:

1. He panicked, didn't want to get caught, and threw it away. There was no way that thing was fitting down the toilet

2. He looked at it, saw that it had boobies galore and didn't throw it away so he could keep it for himself

3. He was telling the truth

or, our personal favorite,

4. Something...happened to the paper while he was inspecting it. I'm not going into any more detail, but I think you know what we meant.

He denied it, of course, but for the rest of the year, it was a sore point that we never failed to bring up. It could come out of the blue; if he had a scar on the palm of his hand, we'd say that's from where he cut himself shaving. Repeat as unnecessary.

Well, we all managed to get back home safe and sound, if out a little change with nothing to show for it. I don't think we ever quite found out how we were separated from our chaperons; nothing was ever said to us about it, anyway.

Mike moved away after the end of seventh grade, and I would not be surprised if at least one of us made reference to the field trip when we signed his yearbook. Something subtle.

"Mike, have a great summer, and don't be a jerk-off."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Field Trip, part three

Start with parts one and two before reading this:

Even though we now had our bearings (and I put myself in charge of keeping the map right-side up), we still had to hustle to the Opera House; it was a bit over a mile away.

Now I don't remember whose idea it was; I know it wasn't mine. If it was, I'd cop to it. At any rate, somehow we decided that, having passed the skrillionth vending machine with the aforementioned scantily clad women, maybe we should, you know, get a souvenir.

We hadn't planned far enough ahead to figure out what we'd do with it after the field trip, but we were living in the moment. It felt like we were on an A-Team mission or something.

So when we passed the net bank of machines, we slowed down to see how much this anatomy lesson would cost. It wasn't cheap, that's for sure. It was at least $3, possibly more. While Mike balked at spending so much money on something we weren't supposed to be in possession of, everyone else, me included, ponied up.

Once we had enough money, the question then became, who was going to actually buy the thing? After much hemming and hawing on our part, claiming old war injuries and other excuses, we voted Dwight to be our designated consumer. This was mostly because he chastised us for being wusses.

"Oh for God's sake, just give me the money. It'll take like one whole minute," Dwight said, feeding the coins into the machine. However, we missed anything he said after that because we saw a cop car approaching. The rest of us crossed the street, leaving Dwight holding onto the handle of the vending machine. He already had half the money in, and since he put in the most money, he wasn't about to say goodbye to it.

He fed the rest of the money in as fast as he could, ignoring the honking from people driving by him, grabbed the paper, folded it under his arm and joined us on the other side of the street. If the police officer had seen him, he didn't think it was worth stopping for.

"Thanks a lot, assholes," Dwight said, his cheeks flushed either from running or from embarrassment.

"There was a cop," I explained.

"Like he cares. I could have been buying the Chronicle for all he knows."

"Well, I didn't want to get caught," Mike said.

Dwight was already not paying attention. He was trying to get a peek at the inside of the paper to see if the girls were unobscured by stars and bars. Possibly unpatriotic, I suppose, but you can't argue with puberty.

Alas, every time he almost got it folded open, some old lady would approach, and he'd close it back up again.

"This is no good," Dwight said. "We'll have to look at it later."

"Mike, why don't you put it in your jacket?" Jim suggested. A good plan; Mike was the tallest, so he had the most room to stash something in his jacket.

"What if someone finds it?"

"I don't think they frisk kids going into the ballet," Jim said.

"Come on, Mike," Ryan said a little forcefully for a sixth-grader. We all looked at him for a second and then looked back at Mike.

"You didn't even put in any money," I said. "You could at least hold it. Who's going to think you're holding anything in your jacket?"

He reluctantly agreed, rolled it up as tight as he could and tucked it in his jacket, which he then zipped up. We resumed our formation: Dwight, Mike and Jim up front, me in the Chewbacca position, and Chad bringing up the rear.

Going the right way had an amazing effect on our travel time; in fact, we got to the Opera House in practically no time. However, we didn't celebrate just yet because we noticed one minor detail.

No one was there to meet us. No teachers, no parents, no kids, no one at all. This was not a good sign.

How much longer can I stretch this out? Would you believe one more day?

Will we get home from San Francisco? Will our contraband get discovered? What is the event that causes controversy among our group?

Come back for the thrilling conclusion!

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Today was a crazy day at work; crazy hot, crazy fun, and crazy in general. Spent part of the afternoon at a Giants game and got a bit sunburned, so I just want to take it easy.

We will return to our regularly scheduled program tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Field Trip, part two

If you missed the first part of this, go here and read it first. I'll wait.

Everyone ready? OK.

We thought we were in big trouble. Our teacher went over the importance of staying with our chaperons at all times, and barely an hour into our trip, we'd already lost them.

Even more pressing was the fact that they knew where we were going; us, not so much. We had the hand-drawn map, and that was about it. None of us had a working watch, which was part of the reason we hustled to meet back at our rendezvous point.

Maybe we misunderstood where we were supposed to meet. We didn't think so, but we didn't have any other explanation. While I had visions of calling my parents to pick me up in San Francisco, we decided to do our best to get to our final destination.

We appointed Ryan, the lone sixth-grader in our group, to be the map holder. Dwight had been to the city a few times, which gave him seniority in the group. He led our excursion.

Technically, we'd both been to the city last year on another field trip, but the highlight of that trip was eating dim sum and sampling new cuisine. I got a tiny cup of tea that almost immediately made me sleepy, and a bowl of what was supposed to be tapioca pudding but had a skin on it about as thick as the bowl itself and the consistency of paste.

The highlight of that highlight was when Dwight, like many of our other classmates, ordered chicken feet and then proclaimed that his had athlete's foot.

Oh, and a few of the older kids in the class somehow managed to get locked in a church basement.

None of this really helped with navigating, though. On one hand, we were nervous, but on the other, we were free to do whatever we wanted. Nerds on the town. Party time.

Well, except for the fact that we didn't know what time it was. Worrywart that I am, I didn't want to check anything out until after we got to the Opera House. I figured that with our luck, we'd stop somewhere and end up missing everything by 10 minutes or something.

"We have plenty of time before we have to be there," Dwight explained. I knew he was right, but I still worried. Dwight suggested that I would worry less once I developed balls.

"That's not what your mom said."

We all were so conditioned to the insult-ridden jungle that was middle school, that it was second nature to just cap on someone if the opportunity was there. I learned 90 percent of all the filth I know now back in sixth and seventh grade. And this, before the Internet. I shudder now to realize the phrases that were bandied about by 11- and 12-year-olds.

Heck, when I moved to Tracy at the end of fifth grade, it was de rigueur to call everyone "scrotum."

It was nuts, I know.

Moving right along...

After a few blocks, we noticed one recurring feature on the streets of San Francisco. Newspaper vending machines. Or to be more precise, newspaper vending machines that featured publications with women clad in nothing but black bars and strategically placed stars. They didn't have papers like that back home. The closest we got to seeing boobies was watching scrambled Cinemax, squinting furiously in the hope of seeing something recognizable.

Don't act like you didn't do it, too, you perv.

With each sighting, there was more giggling and more salacious comments. But as the morning dragged on, the giggles eventually died down because it seemed that we had walked roughly 93 million miles and still saw nothing on our map.

We were aiming for Union Square, because we figured it was the biggest landmark on our map, and it was the one place where we figured we had the best chance of meeting up with another group from our class.

"Ryan, which way do we go?" I asked. Ryan unfolded the map and scrutinized the photocopied lines.

"Looks like a few more blocks up, and then we turn left, and then a few blocks more. I think."

"Screw that," Dwight said. "I'm starving. Let's get something to eat."

"But if we stop to get something to eat, we might miss everyone and then we'll be stuck here."

"Yeah, well if I die of starvation, it won't really matter anyway, will it?"

"I'm hungry, too," Mike said in his quiet, Oklahoma drawl. He was the tallest of our group, decked out in his leather bomber jacket and aviator shades. Having a tall guy in our group made us feel a little safer.

"All right," Dwight said. "Who wants to eat?" Everyone but me raised his hand.

So we popped in to the nearest deli and grabbed some grub. I didn't want to blow all my money, especially if I needed to make a long-distance call later (yes, in case I haven't made it clear, I was a compulsive worrier), so I made do with a root beer. Dwight offered to go splitsies on his sandwich to whoever wanted the other half, which I thought was decent of him.

In reality, it probably took longer to get our orders than it did to eat and drink everything. We were back on the street shortly. We'd go down a few blocks, and when the scenery changed noticeably--like more places with bars on the windows and doors and fewer tourists, we backtracked and tried another avenue.

Somehow we managed to get to Union Square, which was a tremendous relief.

"Ryan, the map," I said. He handed it to me. And immediately, I realized what the problem was.

"What?" Jim asked, noting the look on my face.

"According to this, Macy's should be over there," I said, pointing to the far end of the square. "But here it is on the opposite side."

"Are you looking at that thing right?" Dwight asked.

"Ryan, is this how you've had the map all day?" Jim asked.

"Well, yeah. See, this part is the top, right?"


Somehow we'd managed to make it to Union Square because we were so piss-poor at following directions from a map that had been held upside-down the whole time. We didn't give Ryan too much crap for it; he was a sixth-grader, after all. Plus, now that we had a solid point of reference, we figured we'd have no problem making it to the Opera House in time.

Still, we didn't know what time it was, and apparently it didn't occur to us to ask someone (I know I was too shy), so we pressed on. But not before making one brief detour on the way there. This detour would set into motion a series of events that would likely still be disputed today if all the parties got together.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Field Trip, part one

I always assumed that the purpose of field trips was to provide education students wouldn't otherwise get being cooped up in a classroom.

We lived in a relatively small town; once you learned which gum machine at Kmart would give you unlimited chiclets if you turned it just the right way, a seventh-grader had pretty much done it all.

The reasons we kids loved field trips was not becuse we could screw around. It was because we could screw around in scenic locales.

This was back when parents still were allowed to caravan to our destinations. Each parent (or pair of parents) was assigned a handful of kids they'd drive, usually their kid and the kid's friends.

My group's chaperons were the school psychologist, and--if memory serves--the director of the gifted education program. There's a reason I'm a little fuzzy on this point; I'll get to that shortly.

After a quick jaunt on the freeway, we were then to take BART from the Bay Fair Mall (which was then the closest station to us).

Again, being somewhat sheltered, getting to ride BART was a minor thrill. Alas, after riding it every day to and from work, the thrill has now diminished somewhat. But at the time, it was great sport to spot abandoned factories and claim that they were classmates' houses.

It was the mid-80s. What you wore and how rich you were perceived to be could make or break you like few other eras (he said, not having been in school for ages to even know if it's true).

After a few rousing sessions of "Hey, there's your mom," pointing to anyone who looked remotely disheveled, we arrived at Embarcadero Station. We deboarded and filed back into our groups.

Four seventh-graders and one sixth-grader comprised our group. As I can't swear to every detail, I'm not going to use their real names. There's another reason this is useful, too, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

No doubt realizing the chore that lay ahead of them (mischievous "smart" kids can be insufferable pains in the ass), our chaperons made a beeline for the nearest coffee dealer. They also generously treated the five of us to very rich, very hot cocoa.

The beauty of this trip was that, aside from getting to the War Memorial Opera House by the early afternoon to catch The Nutcracker, our groups were free to take in the winter wonderland that was San Francisco at Christmastime.

Each group was armed with a hand-drawn map that highlighted various must-see attractions. The chaperons also had at least a passing familiarity with the area.

I was hoping to talk the group into checking out a comic book store, but being the class dork, I knew that wasn't entirely likely.

Yes, I was the dork in a class of nerds. There's always someone at the bottom.

After scalding my tongue, I waited for my hot chocolate to cool a bit. Anywhere under 1,000 degrees Kelvin would be fine. While I gingerly took another sip, a deal was being made.

Our keepers wanted to look at boring grown-up stuff (my recollection is antique furniture, but I could be wrong), and we wanted to check out the toy store one floor up.

The deal: They'd check out their crap, we'd check out ours, and we'd meet back down there in 10 minutes.

Up we went. I knew exactly which Super Powers figures I needed to complete my collection, so that's what I was looking for. My best friend Jim and I looked together. Not only did they not have the figures on my list, they didn't even carry any of them. Bah.

After looking at the rest of the store's meager offerings, we regrouped and headed back downstairs. We were proud of ourselves; not only were we back in time, but we were there ahead of our chaperons.

Not only that, but they were late. After waiting, another group member, Dwight, went into the boring grown-up store. He returned, looking mildly worried.

They were nowhere to be found. Once the gravity of our situation sank in and we realized that an 11-year-old and four 12-year-olds were now left to navigate through a large metropolitan area they had no familiarity with, we were unanimous in our sentiment.

Dwight gave voice to that sentiment.

"Well, shit. Now what?"

To be continued...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

One of the few shows I have no recollection of

One of these days, I'll see an entire episode of this. Until then, I'll have to make do with just the opening credits.